Do you remember where you were on September 24th, 1991? That is, if you were even alive, since it was a quarter century ago. I was in class at community college in my home town. As usual I was hanging out on the soccer field, guitar in hand, hanging with my usual band of freaks, geeks, stoners, punks, metalheads, and the like. The buzz around campus was this song ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit,’ that was not only all over MTV, but also becoming an actual hit song on the radio.
Black metal has always been shrouded in controversy, and the arguments about what music is true rage on to this day. While both the purists and innovators may be walking different paths musically speaking, it’s undeniable that both sides are producing some seriously exciting music. Perhaps a little late onto the scene for their Norwegian second-wave sound, 1349 emerged in the late-90s to continue what they felt were the key principals of black metal. 16 years after their initial demo release, drum legend Frost talks to us about how this band have remained one of the key players in black metal.
“In the second half of the nineties, black metal as a genre was brought way into gothic land. It was all about extensive use of synthesizers, female vocals and pompous arrangements, about light melodies and harmonies and about gothic imagery. Ravn’s disappointment with the general development of black metal drove him to try doing something about the situation rather than just complain about the miserable state of things, and start a new band of his own which was to focus on the core values of black metal the way he felt them to be. And thus the menacing machine called 1349 was put into motion. Ravn’s earlier bands Hofdingi Myrkra and Alvheim were left to the scrapyard of history, and this new constellation with a much stronger intent and force of gravity arose instead. Grimness, darkness and rawness were the ruling principles from then on.”
The scene may have changed drastically since the 90s, but there are still many that insist that the original sound is the only true black metal. While 1349 do embrace this idea, its not quite as rigid an ideal as many would believe: “I perceive black metal in part as a life form that has been around for a while and that has developed quite a lot, but which has gotten rather stagnant, conservative and retrospective. The core principles and ideas are luckily untouchable and timeless, and 1349 is built on those.”
While the band does consider themselves to be true, their views on what this means are surprisingly refreshing.
“A sound can not really be ‘true’ in itself – the ‘true’ part comes from the creation and execution of music. Something is true if it is heartfelt, and performed in a convincing way. The sound can help bring out the qualities in the music – or do the opposite. It’s still all about the feeling and attitude of the musicians. I think it’s important for us in 1349 to strive for elitist ideals in that respect (ALL music that we make should sound like we truly mean it with all our soul, either we rehearse, record or play live), without being pretentious about it.”
Despite their core principals, 1349 has never been content to remain static and consistently strive to progress with each album.
“The core qualities of the band, as they were displayed in pure form on the debut album Liberation (Candlelight), are total grimness, aggression, darkness and rawness. On that foundation we have built layer upon layer since the debut release: Beyond the Apocalypse (Candlelight) displayed more nuances and details, and had a sound picture that allowed for more complexity and a somewhat richer musicality than the very one dimensional first album. Then, with Hellfire (Candlelight), we tried to maintain that level of musicality and the intriguing musical solutions while cranking everything up to 11. A very dense, hostile and aggressive album. Eventually we reached a point where it felt absolutely necessary to dig deeper and to bring the band way, way out of the comfort zone and thereby stimulate 1349’s collective creativity and finding new sources of inspiration and drive. We had since the beginning felt that the band had a potential for conjuring a different, deeper and more menacing darkness (the excellent song ‘The Blade’ from Beyond the Apocalypse hinted to it) – something that was much more eerie, mystical, occult and spiritual rather than aggression-driven. The result of our determination to explore that side of 1349 was the experimental album Revelations of the Black Flame (Candlelight) which holds some of the most soulful musical passages in the band’s history so far. An album all about Spirit. Having returned from the Abyss, we brought DEMONOIR to the world – an album that is musically closely tied to Hellfire, but which has this deeper and scarier darkness integrated in the relentlessly aggressive music. With the new album Massive Cauldron of Chaos (Season of Mist) we have put all our force into making the music really come alive – in terms of compositions, flow, performance and production. For the first time in 1349’s history there is actually a solid sense of groove in everything that we do, the album is dynamic and musical on a level we haven’t been close to before. What we have realised, is that by making the music groove, and by really bringing out the human energy in the performance through the production, it also kicks harder, digs deeper and gets more dangerous. That is what truly makes MCoC the highlight in 1349’s existence this far.”
With the new album Massive Cauldron of Chaos released last month, Frost promises that once again the band are pushing their sound further. The album is “1349 at it’s very best and most convincing. Organic, but freezingly cold; raw and relentless, but also refined and complex. Black as night, but with stars illuminating everything brightly.”
While Massive Cauldron of Chaos may seem like an unusual album title for the band, Frost suggests that it perfectly represents the position and direction of 1349 at this point.
“That title came to me as we rehearsed the newly composed song that was to become Cauldron, and was inspired by the energy and feeling of that song. It was as if it was spelled out for my inner eye. We later felt that the title perfectly reflected what 1349 is about as a band, at this point with this album.”
Despite the different in sound, the writing process for 1349 remains consistent. For music that provides such aural chaos, putting it together takes on a surprisingly structured form.
“Most, even if not all, of the songs starts their life as compositions of guitar themes from Archaon’s side. Based on this I create rhythmic structures, and we jam the material in the rehearsal place. Sometimes we end up reconstructing the original ideas to a larger or lesser degree at this point. When the fundamental song structures are in place, bass lines and vocal lines are made on that fundament. Sometimes a new round of restructuring happens. When we are ready to head out to the studio out in the woods of Toten, we just wait for a last round of inspiration to take us all the way to completing an album. Quite a bit of creative and inspired work usually takes place at that stage.”
With the new album released and the band heading out to tour it, plans for anything further may not be in the forefront of the bands mind. There is one driving goal that keeps the band moving forward however.
“I must quote Aleister Crowley at this point – “Exceed! Always exceed!”.